Herbs & Plants

Picea mariana

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Botanical Name: Picea mariana
Family: Pinaceae
Genus: Picea
Species: P. mariana
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales

Synonyms: P. nigra. Abies mariana. Pinus nigra.

Common Names: Black Spruce, Swamp Spruce

Habitat :Picea mariana is native to Northern N. America – Alaska to Newfoundland and south to British Columbia and W. Virginia. It grows on the cool slopes and bogs. Found on well-drained soils in the north of its range and swamps in the south.Found on a variety of soil types, it grows best in those that are moist and acidic.
Picea mariana is a slow-growing, small upright evergreen coniferous tree (rarely a shrub), having a straight trunk with little taper, a scruffy habit, and a narrow, pointed crown of short, compact, drooping branches with upturned tips. Through much of its range it averages 5–15 m (15–50 ft) tall with a trunk 15–50 cm (6–20 in) diameter at maturity, though occasional specimens can reach 30 m (98 ft) tall and 60 cm (24 in) diameter. The bark is thin, scaly, and grayish brown. It is in leaf 12-Jan, and the seeds ripen from Oct to November. The leaves are needle-like, 6–15 mm (1/4–9/16 in) long, stiff, four-sided, dark bluish green on the upper sides, paler glaucous green below. The cones are the smallest of all of the spruces, 1.5–4 cm (1/2–1 1/2 in) long and 1–2 cm (1/2–3/4 in) broad, spindle-shaped to nearly round, dark purple ripening red-brown, produced in dense clusters in the upper crown, opening at maturity but persisting for several years. Main Bloom Time: Early spring, Late spring, Mid spring. Form: Pyramidal.

The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Wind.Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid and neutral soils and can grow in very acid soils.
It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist or wet soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.
It cannot tolerate atmospheric pollution.
Tolerates poor peaty soils. Succeeds in wet cold and shallow soils but is not very wind-firm in shallow soils. Prefers a pH between 4 to 6 and dislikes shallow chalky soils. Dislikes shade. Intolerant of atmospheric pollution. Resists wind exposure. This tree is one of the most widespread and abundant species in N. America where it is extensively utilized as a timber tree. A short lived and slow growing tree both in the wild and in cultivation. New growth takes place from early May to the end of June and rarely exceeds 60 cm even when young and is less as the tree grows old. Trees have been planted experimentally as a timber crop in N. Europe (this appears to contradict the previous statement that the tree is slow growing. The reason is probably that it is either planted in areas too harsh for most trees to grow or it is only slow growing in milder areas such as Britain). A prolific seed-producer, usually beginning to bear cones at around 10 years of age. In some upland areas, especially over granitic or other base-poor soils, growth rate and health have been seriously affected by aluminium poisoning induced by acid rain. Closely related to P. rubens. Plants are strongly outbreeding, self-fertilized seed usually grows poorly. They hybridize freely with other members of this genus. Trees should be planted into their permanent positions when they are quite small, between 30 and 90cm. Larger trees will check badly and hardly put on any growth for several years. This also badly affects root development and wind resistance. Lower branches often self-layer and form a ring of stems around the parent plant. There are some named forms, selected for their ornamental value. The crushed foliage has a strong scent of balsam or lemon balm. Special Features: North American native, Inconspicuous flowers or blooms.

Seed – stratification will probably improve germination so sow fresh seed in the autumn in a cold frame if possible. Sow stored seed as early in the year as possible in a cold frame. A position in light shade is probably best. Seed should not be allowed to dry out and should be stored in a cool place. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle and grow them on in the greenhouse or cold frame for their first winter. They can be planted out into their permanent positions in early summer of the following year, or be placed in an outdoor nursery bed for a year or so to increase in size. They might need protection from spring frosts. Cuttings of semi-ripe terminal shoots, 5 – 8cm long, August in a frame. Protect from frost. Forms roots in the spring. Cuttings of mature terminal shoots, 5 – 10cm long, September/October in a cold frame. Takes 12 months. Cuttings of soft to semi-ripe wood, early summer in a frame. Slow but sure. Layering. Lower branches often layer naturally in the wild.
Edible Uses:
Edible Parts: Flowers; Inner bark; Seed; Seedpod.

Young male catkins – raw or cooked. Used as a flavouring. Immature female cones – cooked. The central portion, when roasted, is sweet and syrupy. The cones are 1 – 4cm in diameter. Inner bark – cooked. It is usually harvested in the spring and can be dried, ground into a powder and then used as a thickener in soups etc or added to cereals when making bread. An emergency food, it is only used when all else fails. Seed – raw. The seed is about 2 – 4mm long and is too small and fiddly to be worthwhile unless you are desperate. A refreshing tea, rich in vitamin C, can be made from the young shoot tips. A tea is also made from the needles and the bark. A gum obtained from the bark is collected in considerable quantities and used for chewing. Hardened blobs make an excellent chewing gum. It should be aged for 3 days or more before using it. The best gum is obtained from the southern side of the tree. Another report says that the gum, called ‘spruce gum’, is a resinous exudation collected from the branches. A source of ‘spruce oil’, used commercially for flavouring. The young twigs are boiled with molasses, sugar etc and then fermented to produce ‘Spruce beer’. The beer is ready to drink in a week and is considered to be a good source of minerals and vitamins.
Medicinal Uses:
A poultice of the inner bark has been applied to inflammations. A tea made from the inner bark is a folk remedy for kidney stones, stomach problems and rheumatism. An infusion of the roots and bark has been used in the treatment of stomach pains, trembling and fits. A resin from the trunk is used as a poultice and salve on sores to promote healing. The resin can be mixed with oil and used as a dressing on purulent wounds, bad burns, skin rashes, scabies and persistent scabs. The resin can be chewed as an aid to digestion. A decoction of the gum or leaves has been used in treating respiratory infections and kidney problems. An infusion of the leaves has been used as a bath or a rub in treating dry skin or sores. A decoction of the young twigs has been used in the treatment of coughs. A decoction of the cones has been drunk in the treatment of diarrhoea. A decoction has been used externally as a gargle to treat sore throats. The cones have been chewed to treat a sore mouth and toothaches.

Other Uses:
Landscape Uses:Screen, Specimen. Likes abundant moisture at the roots, if grown in drier areas it must be given a deep moist soil.

A yellow-orange dye is obtained from the cones. Various native North American Indian tribes made a string from the long roots of this species and used it to stitch the bark of their canoes, to sew baskets etc. The pitch obtained from the trunk has been used as a sealing material on the hulls of canoes. Wood – light, soft, not strong. It weighs 28lb per cubic foot. Since it is a smaller tree than the other spruces, it is not an important lumber source for uses such as construction. However, it is widely used for making boxes, crates etc, and is valued for its use in the pulp industry to make paper, plus it is also used as a fuel.

Known Hazards : The sawdust, the resin from the trunk and even the needles can cause dermatitis in some people.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


Your Palm Says It All

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Rogue, fraud, charlatan. Words we often use to describe the roadside palmist. Can anyone say what the creases, lines and stars etched on our palms mean? Or if they do mean anything at all?
……….....CLICK & SEE
Some people, it seems, can say much about your life by “reading” your palm.

Welcome to the world of medical palmistry, a branch of science based on documented and proven scientific observations.

A detailed examination of the palm does provide valuable clues to a person’s medical history, lifestyle, diseases and life expectancy. Palms and fingers have characteristic creases, whorls, arches and loops. These are unique in each individual and never identical, even in twins. One of the oldest biometric methods of establishing positive identity is by using fingerprints.

“Palmar creases” form in an unborn baby as it holds its hands tightly clenched during the 12th week. Normally this forms three palmar creases or lines. Any physical, medical or drug-induced injury to the foetus during the first three months is reflected permanently as abnormal palmar creases. This can be picked up on ultrasound examination after the 12th week. If the creases are abnormal, the foetus should be closely monitored for associated abnormalities in the kidney, heart and other organ

Sometimes the upper two lines fuse to form a single palmar crease or simian line that stretches across the open palm. A single palmar crease can be present in one out of 30 apparently normal people. It is more common in males and is usually present only on one hand. One or both parents of these children may have the abnormal crease on one hand. This is a minor aberration and warrants monitoring as these children may reveal mild abnormalities in other organs in later life. It is also associated with certain chromosomal anomalies, the most common of which is Down’s Syndrome (Trisomy 21).

Not all abnormal palmar creases are hereditary or genetic. Alcoholic women who continue to drink during pregnancy can produce children with “foetal alcohol syndrome” and a single palmar crease.

People with mental illnesses have more open loops and fewer whorls on their finger tips. Those prone to chronic diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis also tend to have only two lines on the palm, with the abnormal line just above the thumb.

Normally, a person has 10 fingers and toes. In one in 1,000 births, there may be extra digits, separate, complete, incomplete or fused. These defects can be associated with other internal congenital malformations, and so a detailed examination must be done for any affected newborn.

Marfans syndrome is a genetic disorder in which the person has “arachnodactyly” or abnormally long fingers like spider legs. This can be diagnosed before birth through ultrasound.

Congenital hypothyroidism, certain renal diseases and some forms of dwarfism are linked with a “tripartiate” hand — where the index, middle and ring fingers are the same length.

Cigarette smokers, people suffering from chronic respiratory ailments, and those with congenital heart disease may have blue nails. Some lung diseases like bronchiectasis, and chronic intestinal diseases may bend the nail like a convex parrot beak, a condition called “clubbing”. Jaundice causes the skin of the palms to turn yellow. Carotenemia produces a similar appearance. It is a harmless condition and is caused by an excess consumption of yellow carotene containing fruits and vegetables.

Hormone levels in the uterus also influences finger length. A person (irrespective of sex) with the index finger shorter than the ring finger will have had more testosterone (male hormone) while in the womb, and a person with an index finger longer than the ring finger will have had more eostrogen (female hormone). Professional women, especially women scientists, tend to have higher levels of testosterone vis-a-vis their oestrogen level, making their brains closer to those of men in general. The converse is true with men working in the fine arts and social sciences.

The position in which we hold our palms is a reflection of the body mass index or BMI (weight in kilogram divided by height in metre squared). A BMI more than 30 is diagnostic of obesity. Such people tend to hold their hands with the thumbs facing backwards as they stand. Overweight people with a BMI between 25 and 30 hold their arms with the thumb facing sideways. People of normal weight with a BMI between 20 and 25 stand with their palms facing forwards.

So, remember, your palms will reveal a lot about your health, but only if you go to a medical palmist.

The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)

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Health Alert

Stub That Butt Out

Pharmaceutical companies play up the use of anti-tobacco aids, which makes quitting smoking without help seem impossible……….. But it’s not, T.V. Jayan points out
Are the global efforts to kick the butt dimmed by distortion and deception? Perhaps, says tobacco control expert Simon Chapman.

A public health researcher at the University of Sydney, Chapman — who wrote more than a dozen tomes on tobacco control — has unearthed a disturbing trend in smoking cessation attempts. The pharmaceutical industry has been trying to create the false impression that attempting to quit smoking without medicines or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is futile, reveal Chapman and his colleague Ross McKenzie. Their article appeared in the journal PLoS Medicine last week.

With the industry proclaiming that “willpower alone is not enough to quit”, smokers may think it’s useless to try to kick the habit without any aid, they say.

“The aim should be to encourage attempts to quit smoking, and not constantly describe it as difficult. The process has become overly medicalised for many,” Chapman told KnowHOW.

Not surprisingly, nearly two-third to three-quarters of those who quit smoking did so without any professional or therapeutic help, he adds. This, even though anti-tobacco drugs — such as bupropion and varenicline — and NRT products like patches, gum and lozenges have been in the market for more than 25 years.

NRT, medicines and professional counselling or support may help many smokers, but are not necessary for quitting, asserts Chapman.

According to experts, the cold-turkey method — where you progressively reduce the number of cigarettes before stopping completely — is still the most preferred approach. And campaigners are pleased that in a growing number of countries, there are now more non-smokers than smokers.

Chapman and McKenzie, who analysed more than 660 papers on smoking cessation published in 2007 and 2008, found that the industry and many tobacco control researchers have conveniently neglected the power of unaided cessation. On the other hand, there has been an attempt to play up the benefits of pharmacological intervention.

The study also brought to light a bias in research on assisted cessation. While industry-supported research showed that quit-smoking medicines and NRT products have a 51 per cent efficiency, independent studies said the impact was just 22 per cent.

“Because of these attitudes, smoking cessation is becoming increasingly pathologised, a development that risks distorting public awareness of how most smokers quit, to the obvious benefit of the pharmaceutical companies,” say the researchers.

The study comes at a good time, when India is embarking on a major tobacco control campaign. In the last week of January, the Union cabinet approved a Rs 182-crore tobacco control programme. The project — which would cover 42 districts in 21 states — is expected to step up public awareness of the ill effects of tobacco use by setting up testing labs and conducting adult tobacco surveys over the next two years.

Sadly, India has one of the poorest rates of quitting: only about 2 per cent of the smoking population is able to kick the habit annually.

Chapman’s views are echoed by Prakash Chopra, a tobacco control expert and director of the Healis-Sekhsaria Institute of Public Health, Mumbai. Chopra strongly believes that there is a need to publicise the fact that most smokers quit without any aid.

“It isn’t enough for public health policymakers to simply stress this fact; they must also assist unassisted cessation,” he says. This can be done by allocating funds for initiating and enforcing policies in this direction, he suggests.

Chapman points out that most of the government money for tobacco control is spent in support of NRT or similar strategies rather than in aiding unassisted cessation. The criticism seems more than valid, as within a couple of days of publishing his paper many experts from all over the world came up with similar views.

Prabhat Jha, director of the Centre for Global Health Research in Canada, however, believes that pharmaceutical aids do help, though only for a brief while. “These aids double the effectiveness of smoking cessation attempts from a quit rate of about 3 per cent to up to 8 per cent in the following six months. It is true that a vast number of quitters quit cold turkey. But pharmaceutical drugs do help, and if they help more smokers to quit, it’s a good thing,” says Jha.

According to Jha, there is another way out of the haze — tobacco products should be taxed higher. In developing countries, a 10 per cent higher price, it has been found, results in about 3 to 4 per cent of smokers quitting, and another 3 to 4 per cent of individuals not taking up the habit, he says.

Higher prices and then drugs and therapy — why not use your willpower and save your health as well as money?

Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata) India

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Chemicals & Minerals Health Alert News on Health & Science

Present Position of FDA About BPA Risks

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In a shift of position, the U.S. FDA is expressing concerns about possible health risks from bisphenol A, or BPA, a widely used component of plastic bottles and food packaging. The agency declared BPA safe in 2008.


But the FDA now has “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children.”

The action is another example of the drug agency becoming far more aggressive in taking hard looks at what it sees as threats to public health over the past year. In recent months, the agency has stepped up its oversight of food safety and has promised to tighten approval standards for medical devices.

Concerns about BPA are based on studies that have found harmful effects in animals, and on the recognition that the chemical seeps into food and baby formula. Nearly everyone is exposed to BPA, starting in the womb.

Dr. Sharfstein said the drug agency was also re-evaluating the way it regulates BPA.

The substance is now classified as a food additive, a category that requires a cumbersome and time-consuming process to make regulatory changes. Dr. Sharfstein said he hoped its status could be changed to “food contact substance,” which would give the F.D.A. more regulatory power and let it act more quickly if it needed to do so.

New York Times January 15, 2010
New York Times FDA Articles
New York Times May 14, 2009

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News on Health & Science

Can Your Pet Get Swine Flu, and Do They Really Need a Flu Shot?

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The Iowa Department of Public Health reported the first confirmed case of H1N1 in a house pet, a 13-year-old domestic shorthaired cat.
The animal likely contracted the virus from its owners, veterinarians say, since two of the three family members living in the cat’s household had recently suffered from influenza-like illness.

When the cat came down with flu-like symptoms — malaise, loss of appetite — its owners brought it to Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment. The family mentioned to the vet that they had also recently battled illness, which led to testing the pet for H1N1.

It’s not yet clear how vulnerable cats, dogs and other household animals may be to the new virus, but the Iowa cat’s case reinforces just how different H1N1 is from seasonal flu viruses.

“There has never been a report of human seasonal influenza affecting cats or dogs,” says Dr. Julie Levy, director of Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the College of Veterinary Medicine of the University of Florida.

“In theory, cats could infect humans, but there is no evidence for that yet,” added Torres, former chief veterinary officer of the United States who is now associate dean for public policy at Cornell University‘s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Among animals, the virus does not appear to spread easily, which may further suggest that pets are not ideal reservoirs for influenza.

The cat seems to be recovering well from its bout with H1N1, by the way.

Time November 4, 2009 :
Ecoworldly November 6, 2009:

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